Arts & Entertainment

Ad in the Port Jefferson Echo: Jan. 13, 1927, page 2. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Athena Hall, now known as Theatre Three on Main Street in Port Jefferson, was a community hall from 1874, when it was built, until it was remodeled into the Port Jefferson Theatre in 1928 with raked seating for 473.

Until then, it was an open flat-floor area above Griswold’s machine shop, where vaudeville and minstrel shows, magic lantern shows, automobile shows, local plays and other events were held which usually included music and entertainment, and by the early 1900s, “moving pictures” as well.

Ad in the Port Jefferson Echo: Jan. 13, 1927, page 2. Photo from Beverly Tyler
Ad in the Port Jefferson Echo: Jan. 13, 1927, page 2. Photo from Beverly Tyler

Athena Hall was also used for the high school graduations, as a meeting house, election headquarters, dance hall, roller skating ring and by various organizations such as the Port Jefferson fire department which held a benefit show in 1927, featuring a one-act play, a movie and the Port Jefferson High School orchestra. Earlier the same year, Bridgeport radio station WICC held a two-night show featuring Charlie Cole and His Famous Radio Singing Orchestra, with music for dancing every night from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. There were even musical and Charleston dance contests during the auto show in January 1927.

About this same year, 12-year-old Blanche Carlton was asked to play the piano before the film that day and to accompany her close friend Veronica “Ronnie” Matfeld who would be singing. Blanche (Carlton) Tyler Davis is my mom and she told me this story over tea one day just recently.

Mom said, “I believe it was all arranged by Charlie Ruggles who got the director to run the skits at the theater before the movie. I think the director’s name was John. Ronnie was going to sing and I would play the piano. I could hear the tunes so I didn’t need the music and I could pick out other tunes. For the last piece Ronnie sang “Ave Maria” and when she reached the higher notes I was supposed to be at the top notes on the piano and then when Ronnie reached the highest note I was to reach for the notes beyond the piano and fall off the stool onto the stage — and I did.” That was the end of the skit. My mom Blanche and Veronica went off the back of the stage and the movie started.

Ruggles came to live in East Setauket in 1926 and purchased a property at 16 Old Coach Road. He maintained this East Coast residence until 1942.

Ruggles was probably best known for his performances as a character actor in films such as “Bringing Up Baby” (1938) with stars Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. In this crazy, hectic comedy film he played Maj. Applegate, a big-game hunter. Ruggles appeared in about 100 feature films over a more-than 50-year career.

He began on the stage and became well known for his work in radio and television.

Ruggle’s career included Long Island at the Players-Lasky studio (later to become Paramount Pictures), based in Astoria, where he made four silent films in 1915. His comedic talents also extended to his personal relationships and he made many friends, some famous in their own right, as detailed in the Brooklyn Daily Star for May 13, 1927.

“Due to the cordial relations existing between Charles Ruggles, popular comedian of ‘Queen High,’ at the Ambassador Theater, and Lieutenant Commander Byrd, Clarence Chamberlain, Bert Acosta and other famous airmen, the actor has erected a huge searchlight on his estate near East Setauket, L. I., to guide the flyers in their aerial navigation during the night hours.”

Ruggles didn’t spend a lot of time on Long Island. After all, he couldn’t be here and make all those films and be on the stage in New York as well as in radio and television. However, in a story headlined “Movie Star at East Setauket,” as detailed in the Mid-Island Mail, Oct. 1, 1936, he did come here often: “Charles Ruggles of the movies flew from the coast last week to spend several days at his home in East Setauket. The well-known comedian is a frequent visitor here.” Ruggles was also here enough to be included in the 1930 census for East Setauket along with his future wife Marion La Barba.

Many other vaudeville, minstrel and Broadway actors came to this area with its pleasant villages and picturesque harbors. Getting out of the noise and smells of the city was one reason to come to places like Port Jefferson and Setauket and the presence of local theaters, dance halls and entertainment venues just added to the appeal.

Beverly Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society.

From homemade goods to good ole’ cooking, the Port Jefferson Winter Farmers Market has it all.

More than 25 vendors packed into the Port Jefferson Village Center’s first and second floors for the sixth annual Winters Farmers Market last Sunday, Jan. 17. Breads, fudge, preserves, alcohol,  jewelry and more were available for the more than 100 visitors to purchase between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The crowd also enjoyed live music and was able to sample some of the food and drink items being sold.

Market organizer Melissa Dunstatter, owner of Sweet Melissa Dips, 1932 Farm to Table Management and 1932 Farm to Table Farm and Food Truck, opened this year’s winter market in December.

“Farmers [markets are] a way to learn about different food products that are available on Long Island,” said Dunstatter in a recent interview. Many of these vendors are small businesses that have been around for a couple of months to a few years. She added that supporting these small businesses will help boost Long Island’s economy and help educate people on healthy eating.

The Port Jefferson Winter Farmers Market is one of Dunstatter’s five farmers markets including her new market in Sayville. She plans on opening four more farmers markets this year. 

The Port Jefferson Village Center, 101A E. Broadway, Port Jefferson, will host the Port Jefferson Winter Farmers Market every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through May 1. For more information, call 516-551-8461.

‘Coffee Pot Sunset,’ Orient Point Lighthouse. Photo by Jerry McGrath

By Rita J. Egan

Photographer Jerry McGrath has a keen eye when it comes to capturing the beauty of wildlife and landscapes, and through the end of February, nature lovers can enjoy his work at the North Shore Public Library in Shoreham. The exhibit will include approximately 20 images — the majority taken right here on Long Island with a couple from his trips to Alaska — printed on canvas from the Wading River resident’s collection.

‘All in the Family,’ a mother fox with her kits on Fire Island. Photo by Jerry McGrath
‘All in the Family,’ a mother fox with her kits on Fire Island. Photo by Jerry McGrath

The library’s art coordinator Hildegard Kroeger said a few years ago when the library displayed McGrath’s photos, they were well received. She said library patrons will enjoy the new exhibit with stunning photos that capture the impressive wingspans of birds or the eye color of the creatures. “He captures them in a very artistic way, and it may open up the eyes of people to look at things differently,” Kroeger said.

McGrath said becoming involved in photography opened up a whole new world for him. A former fifth-grade teacher at Wading River Elementary School for 30 years, the educator’s love of the art form developed slowly over the decades. He said he bought his first 35mm camera in 1968 while stationed in Vietnam. At the time, it was to simply record his experiences there. He never imagined the purchase would one day lead to the passion it has become for him the past five or six years as well as a small source of income.

McGrath said when he prepares for an exhibit he sees the images coming out of the printer, and he becomes energized knowing that he was part of creating the work and just wants to share it with others, and it can be difficult to choose his favorites to display.

“I just love when the picture comes out of the printer, and I see how that final product looks. And when it looks really sharp and crisp, just the right subject, it’s just something that I get a charge out of. I don’t know what it is,” he said.

‘Metropolis,’ winter town of Elfin Cove, Alaska. Photo by Jerry McGrath
‘Metropolis,’ winter town of Elfin Cove, Alaska. Photo by Jerry McGrath

An avid fisherman, McGrath was inspired to become more involved in photography after a fishing trip to Alaska that led to winning a photo contest. The photographer, who is also a former licensed charter boat captain and conducts a fishing course through the Suffolk County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation, has been visiting Alaska for fishing trips annually for over 15 years.

A few years ago during one trip, he caught a halibut that weighed over 200 pounds. McGrath asked his friend Mike to take a photo of him with his catch, while he held the tail of the fish and sat down with his feet stretched out next to the head of the halibut to give perspective of just how big it was. When he returned home, he entered the picture in a fishing photo contest sponsored by Alaska Airlines and won. With this win, he thought about how he coordinated the photo and started thinking that he may have a knack for capturing a moment.

Winning two round-trip tickets to wherever the airline traveled, he and his wife Cathie decided to take a trip to Hawaii. McGrath said he felt that not any camera would do for such a scenic vacation so he purchased his first DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera. The photographer said he found it easier to use than previous manual exposure cameras that he owned, as well as an inexpensive way to take photos, and he began taking more.

‘Wings,’ a great egret in Baiting Hollow. Photo by Jerry McGrath
‘Wings,’ a great egret in Baiting Hollow. Photo by Jerry McGrath

He said places such as Hawaii and Alaska are beautiful spots to take stunning photos. “You can’t take a bad picture of the sun creeping behind the mountains at sunset at 11 o’clock at night up in Elfin Cove, Alaska. It’s just spectacular,” McGrath said.

However, while he has taken gorgeous photos on vacations, the Long Islander said his favorite spots to take photos are close to home. He said he loves going to the Wading River Marsh Preserve where he easily finds birds by the water or even deer in the woods to photograph.

He added that his own backyard is a great place to take photos, especially of birds such as cardinals, blue jays and mourning doves. McGrath said he never paid much attention to birds, but once he started photographing them he started reading up on the different types and now can identify many of them.

“It opened a whole new world for me,” McGrath said.

A tender photo of a mother fox and her cubs that will be on display at the library was taken on Fire Island. According to McGrath, many of his wildlife photos are possible not only due to a good deal of patience while waiting for the perfect shot, but also by using a 300mm lens and 2x extender, which enables him to get great shots even when he is relatively far away from the subject. He now has a collection of three DSLR cameras, and from time to time, he will use a monopod to remain steady.

‘Fishing Duck,’ a female hooded merganser at the Wading River Duck Pond. Photo by Jerry McGrath
‘Fishing Duck,’ a female hooded merganser at the Wading River Duck Pond. Photo by Jerry McGrath

Visitors to the library exhibit who are interested in purchasing prints will be able to do so directly from McGrath. The photographer said after his first exhibit at the North Shore Public Library a few years ago, he displayed his work at the former Grind Cafe in Wading River and realized people wanted to buy his photos. He said he was amazed when during the two months of the café exhibit he sold 14 or 15 pieces that started at $150 or more. While the sales encouraged him to try to sell more of his photos, he said, “I just love taking the pictures. I would take the pictures whether I was getting paid or not.”

The North Shore Public Library, 250 Route 25A, Shoreham, will present McGrath’s exhibit through Feb. 27. An artist reception, hosted by the Friends of the Library, will be held to meet the photographer on Feb. 7 from 2:30 to 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.northshorepubliclibrary.org or call 631-929-4488. To view McGrath’s work, visit www.facebook.com/CapturedMcgraphicsPhotosByJerryMcgrath.

Samantha Rosario with the cast of ‘In the Heights.’ Photo by Lisa Schindlar

By Charles J. Morgan

In the theater when the aesthetic  and technical coalesce, it engenders a happy marriage of entertainment; a delight to the audience. Such a meld was achieved at Oakdale’s CMPAC’s production of “In the Heights” that opened to a sold-out house on Jan. 16.

The “Heights” are Washington Heights in Manhattan and those who live there are Puerto Rican and/or Dominican. They are poverty stricken but struggle to make the most of it. There is plenty of Spanish spoken and sung,  but the language that carries the show along is English in the form of rap. This trigger-tongue  delivery in rhyming (and sometimes not rhyming) doublets with occasional tercets is handled in a talk-sing manner best by the lead Joseph Gonzalez with surprising articulation. These high-speed passages are long, yet his strong tenor delivered them handily. They may have been enunciated with the speed of an M-4 with the safety off, but each “bullet” was clearly on target.

Set design was by Jenn Hocker. She constructed a suggestion of the Heights; its stores, apartments, streets, laundry, fire escapes and an upstage center suggestion of the Manhattan Bridge … geographically incongruent but piercingly pertinent. Lighting was handled by Allison Weinberger with remarkable success, even down to a dance number done in the dark with flashlights.

Which brings us to choreographer M.E. Junge. A mainstay on the Main Stage, “ME” is a highly talented terpsichorean artist. In this show she affected a sometimes rapid, sometimes nuanced evolution on the boards, replete with the staccato, offbeat Latin rhythms to a masterful degree.

Overall direction was by Michael Mehmet who was confronted with the daunting task of creating individuation to a massive cast as well as blocking each group and individual actor. His long list of talents enabled him to come through handsomely.

Ariana Valdes and Joseph Gonzalez in a scene from ‘In the Heights.’ Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Ariana Valdes and Joseph Gonzalez in a scene from ‘In the Heights.’ Photo by Lisa Schindlar

A live eight-man pit band was headed by Anthony Brindisi with Laura Mitrache and Brindisi on keyboards, Patrick Lehosky on percussion, Brett Beiersdorfer on drums, Kevin Merkel on trumpet, Andrew Lenahan on reeds, John Snyder on bass and Conrad Scuza on trombone. This crew handled the complexities of the Latin rhythms most expertly. In the standard tempi of the “North American” songs they were great, but when it went “Caribbean” they were noteworthy.

Back on the boards. We have Leyland Patrick as Benny who with Gina Morgigno as Nina sing “Benny’s Dispatch” and “When You’re Home” with the whole company. In Act II they are back with “When the Sun Goes Down,” musical trifecta for them.

No review would be complete without mentioning the role of Daniela played to the hilt by Erica Giglio. Her enormous soprano, bursting with far-reaching range, brought down the house both with twin weapons of sarcastic spoken lines and dominant singing voice. One cannot neglect her talented dance abilities. She led the whole company in “Alabanza” and “Carnaval del Barrio” and shone in “No Me Diga” with Nina, Carla (Christina Martinez) and Vanessa (Samantha Rosario).

Kevin is a unique part. He is the aging paterfamilias and is gifted with a pleasing, plangent romantic tenor by Charlie Rivera. His “Inutil”  in Act I and “Atencion” in Act II were tributes to his voice capabilities. A whole page could be devoted to Ariana Valdes as Abuela. She is opera-trained and, with this background the powerful soprano in a solo number about a winning lottery ticket, brought a deserved standing ovation.

The Ensemble comprising Liza Aquilino, Savannah Beckford, Alex Esquivel, Kin-Zale Jackson, Matthew Kadam, Michelle LaBozzetta, Tori Lewis and Edward Martinez were the aesthetic armature of it all along with Luke Rosario as Sonny; Kyle Perry as Piragua Guy; Lori Beth Belkin as Camilla; and Paul Edme as Grafitti Pete. When the Playbill read “Company” this group filled the spot with expertise rarely seen in regional theater.

This effort actually was an example of what CMPAC is capable of theatrically. The amalgam of expert management and a high-grade talent puts this company in the foreground, downstage center, the house ringing with applause.

The CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale, will present “In the Heights” through Feb. 7. Tickets range from $20 to $29. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.

Some of the craft beers now for sale at the Cinema Arts Centre Sky Room Cafe. Photo from Raj Tawney

The Sky Room Café has expanded its menu, now offering craft beer and wine.

According to Raj Tawney, director of publicity and promotion at the Cinema Arts Centre, located at 423 Park Ave., Huntington, this is part of a continuing effort to make the Sky Café into its own entity.

Aside from a wide-ranging menu, the Sky Café also hosts Cult Café, Sky Room Talks, Pop Culture Café, Hard Luck Café, movie trivia night and various music acts every month.

Cult Café is a new film series aimed at a younger audience that shows popular cult classic films. The first film featured was “The Big Lebowski,” which ran last Saturday and had an audience of more than 100 people. Movies to come include “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.”

Sky Room Talks is a series where local film historians give talks and play clips from different films and television shows. One talk focused on the still popular “Twilight Zone” TV series from the early 1960s and was led by historian Philip Harwood.

Photo from Fathom Events

One of the most influential and highest-grossing Westerns ever made, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” rides back into movie theaters this week for the first time in 40 years courtesy of Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies.

With its iconic performances by Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy, Robert Redford as The Sundance Kid and Katharine Ross as Etta Place, director George Roy Hill’s sprawling comedy-drama has delighted audiences around the world, but hasn’t been seen on the big screen in nearly two generations.

Featuring a specially-produced commentary by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, the film will be shown at more than 650 theaters around the country on Sunday, Jan. 17, and Wednesday, Jan. 20, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

In our neck of the woods, screenings will be held at Island 16, 185 Morris Ave., Holtsville; AMC Loews Stony Brook 17, 2196 Nesconset Highway, Stony Brook; and Farmingdale Multiplex 1001 Broadhollow Road, Farmingdale. Tickets are available online at www.FathomEvents.com or at theater box offices.

Drummer Jarrod Beyer plays at a Gnarly Karma rehearsal on Jan. 12. Photo by Alex Petroski

Rocking out is the name of the game for a Huntington-based band of driven twentysomethings who are preparing for their biggest show yet.

On Saturday, Jan. 23, they’ll be headlining The Bitter End, a Manhattan music venue that has hosted the likes of Stevie Wonder, Lady Gaga and Bob Dylan.

“It’s awesome,” Jarrod Beyer, the band Gnarly Karma’s drummer, said in an interview Tuesday. “We’re all ready for the task. This is what we’ve been working for, big shows in the city.”

Initially, Beyer said the Greenwich Village venue only offered the band a weeknight spot. However, just a few weeks later, the person in charge of The Bitter End’s booking called Beyer to tell him he had heard some of their music and felt that they were weekend quality, and would have the opportunity to headline a Saturday night show.

“It’s definitely a lot of excitement,” bassist Ryan McAdam said about the gig. “I always get a little nervous a couple of minutes before, just waiting to go on stage. We put a lot of work in, so we always feel pretty comfortable going into the shows. I’m pretty confident we’re going to bang out a great set.”

Bassist Ryan McAdam, lead singer Mike Renert and saxophonist Billy Hanley practice at a Gnarly Karma rehearsal on Jan. 12. Photo by Alex Petroski
Bassist Ryan McAdam, lead singer Mike Renert and saxophonist Billy Hanley practice at a Gnarly Karma rehearsal on Jan. 12. Photo by Alex Petroski

It turns out the Huntington community set the perfect stage for this band to come together.

Beyer, 25, graduated from John Glenn High School in Elwood in 2008, and first met Mike Renert, the band’s 29-year-old lead singer and guitarist, through a mutual friend about four years ago.

“When you play music with someone, you know in the first 30 seconds if it’s going to work, and that just happened,” Renert said about the first time he and Beyer got together to jam. “It was one of the first times in my life that I … was just like, ‘Hey, I have this song,’ and I started playing, and he played, and it was like, ‘Whoa, that’s the first song and that was exactly what I wanted to hear.’ And it just went from there.”

Renert and Beyer’s natural chemistry inspired them to expand. Beyer had been in another band as a teenager — he called 24-year-old McAdam, another John Glenn graduate from Huntington whom he had experience with.

“He came through, and he gelled with us perfectly,” Beyer said of McAdam.

The band was still missing a little something, so when Beyer heard that Billy Hanley, 25, a saxophone player who Beyer had played with in the John Glenn High School jazz band, was running a record studio in the area, suddenly there were four bandmates.

Gnarly Karma released their first studio album, “Classic Breeze,” via iTunes in September 2015. The group has a familiar but unique sound — they could be described as a distant cousin of The Dave Matthews Band, with a punk edge.

The guys credited their small-town upbringing as a vital ingredient in their success.

“It’s very small, so you know everybody, even if you don’t want to know everybody,” Beyer said. “So it’s kind of cool that, as we got more progressive into music, people who we haven’t talked to in a long time are coming to our shows and supporting us.”

Educational production back by popular demand

A scene from a previous year’s performance of ‘Running Scared, Running Free’ Photo from WMHO

In honor of Black History Month, Long Islanders can truly celebrate the meaning of freedom with Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s acclaimed “Running Scared, Running Free: Escape to the Promised Land.” These riveting live theatrical performances, held over 150 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, will be a poignant experience about the power of the human spirit and Long Island’s connection to the Underground Railroad.

Sponsored by Empire National Bank, “Running Scared, Running Free” is an interactive production based on investigative research compiled by the WMHO and was attended by over 7,000 young people and adults when it first opened in 2005. 

Oral histories shared by Native Americans inspired WMHO to research the movement of escaping slaves from the south to Long Island and north to Canada. A St. George Production, the drama is set in the mid-1850s and is told through the eyes of “Dorcas,” a female slave fleeing South Carolina. The production shows how Native Americans, Quakers, free blacks and abolitionists assisted in the Underground Railroad through the fascinating use of secret codes in quilt patterns as a vital means of communication. It is estimated that at least 30,000 slaves, and potentially more than 100,000, escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad.

Performances will take place on selected dates between Feb. 1 to 29 at WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main Street, Stony Brook Village, at 10 a.m. and noon. In addition, there will be a special evening performance on Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m. with dessert and coffee or tea.

General admission is $13 adults; $12 per student (up to 35 students); $8 per student (over 35 students); Distance Learning is $250 per class connection (IP and ISPN connectivity); $1,500 in-school performance.

The program is aligned to meet National and New York State Common Core Standards and BOCES Arts-in-Education reimbursable. For further information call 631-751-2244 or visit www.wmho.org.

Port Jefferson Village Center hosts traveling exhibit’s last stop

A unique barn on the North Fork with clapboard siding (wood shingles and vertical planks are the preferred sidings). Photo by Mary Ann Spencer

By Ellen Barcel

The Port Jefferson Gallery at the Port Jefferson Village Center is currently showing The Barns of the North Fork, a photographic exhibit by Mary Ann Spencer, of the disappearing agricultural heritage of Long Island.

Spencer, who was a board member of the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, has long been interested in local history. The exhibit was first shown in SPLIA’s gallery in Cold Spring Harbor.

“I’ve been driving out east since I arrived here 30 years ago,” said Spencer in an interview 10 years ago when she first completed the exhibit. Originally from Wyoming, the East Setauket resident had spent several years documenting these vestiges of Long Island’s agricultural past and present. Most of the photos are from the Southold area.

An Estate Carriage House in Bayview (Jamesport). Photo by Mary Ann Spencer
An Estate Carriage House in Bayview (Jamesport). Photo by Mary Ann Spencer

Spencer became so closely associated with the history of barns that people began to recognize her not by name but as “The Barn Lady.” So, Spencer added, “My husband got me a vanity plate that says, ‘Barn Lady’.”

Now, 10 years later, when asked how many of the barns are now gone, Spencer noted, “That’s an interesting question. I have been out there (recently) and a few are gone, but not a large number. It’s a good thing to hear.”

“The exhibit was inspired by the book [of Spencer’s photos]. It represents the antiquity of the barns which are vanishing. It preserves that important history of Long Island when we were basically farmland,” said Sue Orifici, administrator of Graphic, Archival and Special Projects of the Village Center. While the book and exhibit are not intended to be a detailed history of each barn, basic information is provided such as town, approximate date if known, use and other miscellaneous information.

Noting that this is the last time that the traveling exhibit will be shown, Orifici added, “It’s a great show for cultural reasons. That’s our focus at the gallery. As you go through the exhibit [with the blown-up photos] there is information on the background, the architecture, the names of the types of barns and their purpose … It’s not just a photo essay.”

Spencer, a freelance photographer, added that while she has hung the exhibit many times, “the time that was the most fun was the State Fair in Syracuse because I’m a fan of state fairs,” another part of local history.

All of the photos in the exhibit — there are approximately 70 of them — were taken with film. So, now, 10 years later, how does Spencer feel about digital photography? “I did come into this century. My work is now digital. I started the (barn) survey in 2001, all in film. I had negatives everywhere.” The negatives were specially printed in a custom lab. “Now that I’ve gone digital I do all my own printing, matting and framing.”

A three-story estate dairy barn with a Gambrel roof in Bayview (Jamesport). Photo by Mary Ann Spencer
A three-story estate dairy barn with a Gambrel roof in Bayview (Jamesport). Photo by Mary Ann Spencer

Spencer noted that in going digital, she bought a very expensive camera, but added, “I haven’t taken a picture (digitally) that I think is as fine as film,” and that while most people can’t see the difference, “I can see the difference. There’s a depth in a print made from film,” that you just don’t see in digital images. “I used film for 40 years. To my eye it was better.” Now it’s hard to even find film in stores. “Now you have to go into the city to develop color film.”

While this is the last time she plans to show this exhibit, she still does a PowerPoint presentation on the barns. She changes the presentation based on the audience’s interests and locale. She can be reached at barns@cims.nyu.edu.

Don’t miss this exquisite show, which was partly funded by Suffolk County under the auspices of the Cultural Affairs office and the New York State Council of the Arts. It is open now through Feb. 28. A reception, which is open to the public, will be held on Friday, Jan. 15, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the PJVC. Spencer’s book, “The Barns of the North Fork” (Quantuck Lane Press, 2005), is available locally and online. She will also have copies of the book available for sale at the reception.

The Port Jefferson Village Center, 101-A East Broadway, Port Jefferson, is open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The center can be reached at 631-802-2160 or go to www.portjeff.com.

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Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni as Elizabeth Fuller and Marci Bing as Bette Davis in a scene from ‘Me & Jezebel.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Michael Tessler

Bette Davis epitomized glamour, style, and sexiness for decades. And then, she didn’t. Consumed by controversy, she fell, like most stars do, only to land in a most unexpected place.

Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni as Elizabeth Fuller and Marci Bing as Bette Davis in a scene from ‘Me & Jezebel.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni as Elizabeth Fuller and Marci Bing as Bette Davis in a scene from ‘Me & Jezebel.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Written by Elizabeth Fuller and directed by Bradlee Bing, Port Jefferson’s Theatre Three brings Bette Davis back to life for a roaring good time in their production of “Me and Jezebel,” a true story that shows a side of the Hollywood legend that very few have seen before.

Marci Bing is Bette Davis. Each of her steps is made with such dramatic purpose, each line delivered with diction so precise you could slice bread. You’d be hard-pressed to find an audience member who hadn’t convinced themselves they were actually watching “The Fifth Warner Brother” herself.

Bing, a longtime actress at Theatre Three, takes a lifetime of experience to the stage to deliver an unforgettable performance. She captures not the starlit diva of yesteryear, but rather the aged, raspy, resentful, yet regal nonetheless, 77-year-old Bette Davis.

This dynamic character would prove a serious challenge for even the most veteran performers, yet Bing delivers on all levels, leaving you desperately surfing through Turner Classic Movies afterwards to catch Bette Davis classics like “Of Human Bondage” and “Jezebel.” Her perfectly-paced performance will make you love her, hate her, then love her all over again.

On her opposite, is the relatable, and significantly tamer, Mrs. Fuller, the real-life writer who unexpectedly became hostess to one of Hollywood’s greatest and most controversial stars. Played by the extremely talented Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni, another Theatre Three veteran, this young mother finds herself face-to-face with her childhood hero. This true encounter is recreated perfectly on-stage, using a storytelling style slightly different from your usual stage production.

Castrogiovanni shines as she plays not just Mrs. Fuller, but also her stern husband, rambunctious son, and a southern evangelist determined to convert the often unholy Bette Davis. Her impressive balancing of these secondary characters will make you laugh, sneer, and sniffle. Each character takes on a life of its own and interacts flawlessly with Davis.

Perhaps my favorite part of Castrogiovanni’s performance was the reverence not just for Davis, but for her real life counterpart, Marci Bing. These two form a chemistry that brings the whole show together and brings the whole house down. Her tension, starstruck mannerisms, and admiration feel so authentic that it’s hard not to believe what you’re watching isn’t actually happening for the first time. Castrogiovanni could revisit the show in a few years and easily pick up the role of Bette Davis.

Much of the show’s success can be attributed to Mr. Bradlee Bing. His expert direction helped create an atmosphere perfect for shaping these characters. The simple set and subtle lighting helped bring the Fuller’s New England cottage to life. This provided excellent embellishments to an already marvelous performance.

If you know Bette Davis, you’ll love the show. If you’ve never heard of her, you’ll fall in love with her the night you see it.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Me & Jezebel” through Feb. 6. Contains adult themes and language. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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